Fluid Adds Zest to Web Apps

A Google Reader app made using Fluid
Fluid is a 'Mac'-only application that allows you to create “site-specific browsers“ to bring web apps more concretely onto your desktop. So, you can make individual apps for your Mac – which are small in size, and fast – for web services such as Facebook, Facebook Chat, Flickr, Last.fm, Google Reader, Google Docs, G-Cal, Gmail, Hahlo, Blogger, MySpace, eBay, and hundreds of others.

It's so simple  to make your own app (once you have Fluid) that you can do it in just three steps:

1. Launch Fluid
2. Enter a URL, app name, choose a location (in “/Applications“ is fine), and select an icon
3. A few seconds later, Fluid will make a 'ping' noise, and offer to launch your new app. All done!

Easily form a new web app using Fluid

When you roll-your-own app, your new app can be placed in your dock, and launched just like any application. It also brings other benefits, such as: notifications for new messages or events (Growl is supported, but it's not seamless yet), separating out your work and personal apps, avoiding distractions, and avoiding losing all your log-in sessions in the event of your regular browser crashing.

Fluid doesn't need to be running when you use these new apps you've formed. You just use Fluid itself to roll your new apps (see the three easy steps, above). Thereafter, these new apps – which are known as a “Fluid_Instance_xxx“ (where xxx is the new app's name) within your Mac's inner workings – are generally a mere 8 to 10 MB in size, and use as much RAM as a single window of Safari.

Indeed, Fluid's apps are based on WebKit, the same rendering engine as Safari, and thus your new apps look a

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nd feel right, and run natively and briskly.

Spice it up
A bit of fun can be had customising your new apps, in terms of the icon used, and its appearance. As for the icon, a whole Flickr group has sprung up featuring 512 by 512 icons in PNG format which are sharp and funky, and ready to fit into Leopard very nicely, with it's 'Coverflow' browsing of applications. Generally, the site's own icon (or “favicon“) is too poor in quality to use on your Mac, but it's so easy to change it, that you may as well spruce it up. Here are 3 I made earlier, sitting in my dock – YouTube, Google Reader and Gmail:

 A Google Reader app made using Fluid

As for the appearance, you can tweak the window style, so that it might be silver or black-framed; semi-transparent or opaque; always floating, or in the background, or hidden; the app can run – if you choose the “MenuExtraSSB“ option – only from the toolbar as a drop-down menu; and, lastly, the window could be split-pane and incorporate thumbnails of all linked pages – useful, say, for Facebook – which can be browsed in 'Coverflow' style.

More complexly, you can alter the user-agent, so that you could run, say, the iPhone twitter client Hahlo on your Mac by setting your app's user-agent as iPhone (or iPod Touch), and it will look and feel almost exactly as it does on the iPhone.

It's worth pointing out that Fluid is Leopard only, but it is so awesome that it pushed me to upgrade from Tiger a month ago. Better news is that Fluid is free. At the time of writing, Fluid is at version 0.9.2 and seems to be regularly updated with new features at each revision. Fluid is so problem-free and smooth that it feels like it's version 1+ already. So, if you have Leopard already, you can soon be rolling your own apps to bring those useful web apps onto your desktop.

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